It rained all week, heavy rains, and Gloucester’s white with it, and the rocks are grey with it, and the seagulls, perched in pockets of stone, huddled and cold, can only wait for it to end.
In the afternoons, Dennis sits on the balcony, screened in against mosquitoes and gypsy moths. He’s read three of those big fat romance novels Lucia keeps in a bag under her bed. The novels were okay, better than he’d expected, providing deep pools of room-temperature prose that requires nothing to fall into and less to climb out of.
Last week Cal told him Mrs. Garrity had hired the Sanskrit to cater some of the finger food for the fundraiser Saturday night. Word’s out around town that Mr. Garrity’s invited a lot of important people, money people, the Cardinal, two bishops, some monsignors, a number of diocesan priests from parishes throughout the Commonwealth, several Jesuits from Garrity’s alma mater, a Dominican or two, some Franciscans and a few monks from a Benedictine Abbey to round out the exotic appeal of men without women.
Cal got hold of the party list when Mrs. Garrity faxed it by mistake to Thano after negotiating a price for the Sanskrit’s services. Cal told Dennis the Vatican might send an emissary on behalf of the Pope and that there’d be a few senators and congressmen there too.
Dennis asked Cal if he thought it would be healthy for Lucia to attend, even though Thano’s told his employees that all leaves are canceled and that he expects them to be available all weekend.
“Maybe not,” Cal said, “but she needs this job, and says she can do it, if she doesn’t think too much about it.”
“Maybe I’ll go too,” Dennis said.
“I don’t think Mr. Garrity would like that,” Cal said.
“Probably not, but I’m not thinking about what Mr. Garrity likes.”
Dennis has started to read the papers again. He’s followed the story about the missing lawyer. There was a follow-up story that said a friend of his from 60 State had received a postcard from the guy from some town in Hungary where he’s supposed to have family. There were other stories about the guy’s drinking, and after awhile the police chose not to waste a lot of resources tracking down a guy who probably wants to be lost.
The other story’s been about the German Pope, and it writes itself between the lines of Vatican noise. There’s talk about a problem with his health, and “health problem” tends to be code for “your-mother’s-on-the-roof,” which tends to be code for cardinals to get their flights booked because they’ll be spending September in the Sistine Chapel.
It’s Saturday afternoon.
Dennis walks into town and stops by the Sanskrit. They opened for breakfast and closed at noon to get the platters ready for the fundraiser. He knocks on the window and Rosa, Stella and Terry, the other waitresses, call for Lucia who comes into the main room and tells him to go around back.
In the parking lot behind the restaurant Thano and Cal argue over the placement of boxes, trays and platters in the van with the refrigerated compartments. Thano’s bluster is huge, and he’s huge, though, like Jackie Gleason, he throws himself about with unexpected grace and dexterity.
“I don’t care,” he shouts, “You leave the hummus that way and by the time we serve it, you’ll be serving oil and sediment.”
Cal looks at him with the flat, patient expression of all brilliant employees who know how to shrug their shoulders and go along.
“Who are you?” Thano shouts when he sees Dennis standing near the back door.
“I’m a friend of Cal’s and Lucia’s.”
“Well, we’re busy here, friend, so maybe you should head off till another time.”
“I can help carry stuff if you want,” Dennis says.
Thano looks at Cal. “You know him?” he asks.
“He’s our housemate,” Cal says.
Thano looks at Dennis again. “I can’t pay you,” he says.
“No problem,” Dennis says.
“Alright then, you help Cal, here, and we’ll see what’s up.”
Thano rushes back inside as Lucia opens the door.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Cal asks Dennis.
“What happened?” Lucia asks.
“He just volunteered to help us with this thing,” Cal says.
“No way,” Lucia says. “Don’t even think about going to the Garrity’s.”
“I came here to tell you the same thing,” Dennis says.
“I’ve got no choice,” she says.
“We work here,” Cal says.
“I know where you work, but I’m as worried about you going as you are about me.”
After that they stare at one another, shrug their shoulders, laugh a little and go about their business. Dennis helps Cal with the trays and platters and Lucia goes back inside.
Cal makes several trips to the Garrity’s and back. He’ll probably make trips all afternoon and through the night. Each time he takes one of the three waitresses so they can prepare tables under the tents set up on the great lawn. Cal tells Dennis the grounds are soggy from all the rain, but that Mr. Garrity had a line of tents set up from the main house down to the chapel. Dennis asks how the chapel looks, and Cal tells him about floodlights set in the ground that throw light over the outside walls.
Dennis and Cal load the van and Cal leaves with Rosa, the third waitress, as Thano and Lucia finish up inside. It begins to rain again, softly, and the skies are empty of color and it’s cool and humid and oppressive. Dennis sits on a stone ledge under an awning, and Lucia joins him.
“So what are you doing?” she asks.
“What do you mean?”
“Coming down here, helping out for free. You know what I mean.”
“I’m worried about you. I know you’re going there tonight, but I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“What could happen?” she asks.
“I told you what that lawyer said. These guys are no good.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Remember, I saw you that day inside there. Just hearing Garrity’s voice made you drop a tray of food.”
“No, you didn’t. You heard his voice, you saw his face and fell apart.”
“I need this job, Dennis.”
“I know you do.”
“Anyway, we’ll be so busy, I probably won’t see anyone.”
After that they sit next to each other in silence. Their fingers can’t be more than three inches from one another, and Dennis feels the energy of all life in this woman sitting next to him. He wants to reach over this vast distance, these plains of uncertainty stretching out within this finite space. But some risks are beyond him, and he fears rejection will awaken in him desires he’s held at bay up till now. He knows it’s only the touch of hands, of fingers, of fingertips, and yet, it would mean more. Theirs is a relationship of comfortable silences and small gestures weighted with grand meanings and expectations. It’s been comfortable as long as Dennis has not wanted more, but if he touches her now and with that touch tells her he wants more, she might say anything, whether it be laced with kindness or not, a patronizing smile, laughter over the awkwardness of it all or the dreaded double-pat on the shoulder that returns all things to friendship, and only friendship, and will devastate him in the process.
So what will happen now, he wonders, sitting there, so close to her, when he’s come to value her friendship as being as rare a gift as love? What would happen if he told her he loved her and she told him that she loved him as friends love one another, as people caught in a storm recognize they need one another to get through it, to make it to the other side where the land rises in rolling waves, dry against the horizon where the storm has ceased to drown the earth? What would happen then? And now there’s only an inch between them, and his fingers feel it, and her fingers feel it, as she lowers her head and smiles a gorgeous smile, so sensual, warm and giving, as her eyes narrow and almost disappear, as she grabs his wrist, leans over and kisses him on the cheek.
“Don’t worry so much,” she says, jumping down from the ledge, stepping out into the driveway where Cal’s returned and waits in the van to take her to the Garrity’s.
A mist continues to coat the surface of everything. Thano backs out the back door and locks it behind him. He sees Dennis sitting under the awning and asks if there’s something else he wants. Dennis says “no,” that he better start walking to get to the Garrity’s before it rains again.
“You need a ride?” Thano asks.
“So you’re invited to this Garrity thing?”
“I used to work there.”
“So they know you, then; they’ll let you in?”
“Sure they will.”
“So you’re on good terms, then?”
“The best,” Dennis says.
They drive through town, around the beach, past Bessie Pond, down Punter’s Road and past the place in the woods where it all happened.
“So, you worked for Garrity,” Thano says, and Dennis tells him that he’d been hired to tutor their daughter.
“I thought you were working on the ceiling with that artist guy,” Thano says, and Dennis realizes Thano knows more about him than he thought he did.
Dennis tells him how he’d worked with John Mercier until he hired other assistants when he needed helpers who knew more about art.
“Well, that’s why I’m going,” Thano says.
“Make sure the Sanskrit caters everything the way Mrs. Garrity wants, but I want to see that ceiling too.”
“Pongiatero, the pizza guy, he delivered some pizza there the other night and got a look at it. Said it was magnificent. Said it was real art, not like this bullshit they’ve been pawning off on people for years.”
“So, you like art?”
“Art, ‘shmart,’” Thano says, “what I like is something big and powerful that smacks you right in the gut. I’m a Turk, you know. We built Byzantium before it was Constantinople. Nothing in Rome could compare with it. Freakin’ Italians think they cornered the market on art.”
“So you’re from Turkey?”
“Grandparents. They come here. Good country. They buy a restaurant, and right away they go bankrupt. My father takes it over, right away he does good. He leaves it to me, I do great.”
“Mount Ararat’s in Turkey, isn’t it?” Dennis asks.
“I guess,” Thano says.
“I saw this documentary on TV about one of the astronauts who keeps going back there trying to find Noah’s ark.”
“Astronaut, ‘shmashtronaut.’ The guy spent too much time on the moon. All of them guys come back a little crazy. Too much moon dust.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
They approach the last hill before the Garrity compound, and from the crest of the hill the ocean spreads out before them.
“Look at that,” Thano says. “Greatest country in the world when you see ocean like that. My grandparents grow up on the Mediterranean. It’s like an ocean, but they call it a sea.”
“Is Turkey a Christian country,” Dennis asks, and Thano draws up his shoulders and moves his weight about, as if the question’s a rude and unwelcome intrusion on benign small talk.
“That’s a crazy question,” he says. “A country is a country; it doesn’t have religion unless it’s communism. Turkey’s not communist, so it has no religion. We’re a big ally of the United States, you know, biggest ally in a part of the world where nobody likes the United States.”
“I know,” Dennis says, “I was just wondering if it was Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever.”
“Turkey has all those and more,” he says. “We have Hindi, Buddhist, Methodist, you name it. Turkey is a very tolerant place, except if you carry drugs. You carry drugs, Turkey is not very tolerant. But Turkey is civilized. We were civilized before Europe, when your people were in forests.”
“I know. And some of my people still live in forests.”
“My mother lives in Maine.”
They arrive at the compound, and Dennis tells Thano to drop him off before he enters.
“Don’t be silly,” Thano says, as he stops at the security booth installed for the occasion. A young guy with a ridiculous flat top bends at the waist and checks Thano’s ID against the list in his hand.
“Who’s this?” the guy asks, pointing the wrong end of his flashlight across the seat.
“Friend of a friend,” Thano says. “He’s helpin’ out for the day.”
“Is he in your employ?” the guy asks.
“No, he’s not, but he’s volunteered to help out.”
“Part-time employee, then?” the guy asks.
“Not exactly, but that’s close enough if you need to check a box or something.”
“What I need, sir, is to know who he is and what he intends to do here.”
“Alright,” Thano says. “He’s in my employ, and he’s going to help cater the event. How’s that?”
The guy looks at Thano, bends again and looks at Dennis. After that he stands up, steps back and waves them through.
“Rent-a-cop assholes,” Thano says. “Give some asshole a badge and they think they’re James fuckin’ Bond, for chrissake.”
“Now you better not cause any kinda trouble here,” Thano says. “They got my name down as vouchin’ for you.”
“I won’t,” Dennis says. “No worries.”
Thano pulls to the right and takes the gravel road around the pine trees next to the walkway and the depression where the moon house sits. They get out of the car, and Thano opens the trunk and slaps two leather bags over his shoulders. He reminds Dennis to be careful, and Dennis watches him walk down the gravel road to the break in the trees where the white tops of tents are visible on the great lawn. Dennis doesn’t follow him. Instead he enters the slip of woods between the moon house and the A-frame and walks until he reaches the narrow wedge of trees, grown so close together that he can look out on the great lawn, the main house, the tents, and the chapel without being seen.
Cars arrive, one after another. They park in neat rows on the flat part of the lawn. All the cars are this year’s models. There are Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, a few Cadillacs and several limousines. About twenty chauffeurs stand around. Some of them hold black umbrellas, and one by one they reach out their hands from under the silk shells and touch nothing but cool air as clouds part and make long streaks in the pale sky.
The sun appears and limns a stretch limo that drives across the lawn and parks in a designated spot. The chauffeur gets out and runs around to open the back door. A heavy man with white hair atop a huge, soft face emerges into the sun and stands there and shines. His body’s so white it appears to have been recently “talc’d” and about to break out of the cassock trimmed in red with a wide sash. He wears a red hat and red slipper-shoes on his feet. He waits as an assistant priest runs up and clips a red cape to his shoulders. This is the Cardinal, the freedom marcher of the fifties who became a reactionary to win a Pope’s favor and the power that goes with it. He takes two steps and stops. The ground is too soggy for his shoes. He tells the priest to do something about it and waits by the back of the limo until some grounds-keepers lay plywood end to end from the limo up to the main house.
With the break in the weather, the caterers and the waiters and the waitresses lift the flaps of their tents. The tents extend from the main house all the way down and across the lawn to the chapel. The first two tents belong to a group out of Boston who arrived in several white vans. The third tent belongs to a new restaurant in Rockport and is staffed with ten young men and women who look like models for glossy fashion magazines. The fourth tent belongs to the Sanskrit and the fifth tent, closest to the chapel, houses three women from Newport who are famous for their French desserts.
The sun descends just enough to touch the trees behind the main house, and Dennis can see Lucia in the Sanskrit’s tent. She looks busy and with Thano and the others running around Dennis doesn’t worry so much about her.
The sun begins to evaporate some of the moisture in the air and makes a rainbow over the harbor, all of which is made more dramatic by the purple clouds gathering over the horizon.
Renaissance musicians decked out in those puffy, billowy costumes, the men in green tights and peter pan shoes, the women in granny dresses, all of them wearing huge floppy velvet hats, emerge from the main house and saunter down the lawn, plucking lyres and singing madrigals, telling tales of faire maidens and good fellows well met with a ‘hi hee hee’ and a ‘ho ho ho.’
The guests mill about and gather in small groups. The waiters and waitresses walk about with trays of food on their shoulders. The rainbow over the ocean, the golden mist and purple backdrop make the whole thing look like a lush Zeffirelli movie with a Florentine feel.
Hours pass with new arrivals, more chauffeurs and two open bars. Then twilight rolls over the great lawn. Fans of light against the chapel walls become brilliant and blue. One of the troubadours, the size of a defensive lineman, lights several torches stuck in the ground. Other Renaissance singers walk about with candles, their faces glowing white and orange. A breeze starts up as the last cars park in double lines that curve eastward to the ocean, and Dennis watches as Mrs. Gawrych’s lawyer-friend, Michelle Lefebvre, and her husband, get out of an older Mercedes and join other handsome men in tuxedos and beautiful women in gowns that sparkle with the overall loveliness of it all.
Twilight deepens and the clouds over the ocean blow back over the shore; night becomes a marriage of clouds and shadows. The torches and ground lights become distinct and pure. The wind gets a little wild and tent flaps rustle and snap and some of the waiters tie them up again. The big troubadour rings a copper bell. It’s the signal for everyone to return to the main house for Mr. Garrity’s speech. They walk up the great lawn, each carrying a long stemmed glass of champagne, some holding napkins and fine china plates loaded with hors d’ouerves and vegetables and delicacies imported from parts unknown.
Dennis figures this is the time to move. He walks past the thicket of trees to the rocks that drop down to the ocean. He starts back along the shoreline towards the inlet and the back of the chapel. Several chauffeurs stand next to their limousines, and some return to their drivers’ seats. Others stand around with full plates of food, and none of them notice him.
He looks up the slope to where the Cardinal, shining still in torchlight, stands next to his attorney, Edmund “Ned” Garrity.
Garrity’s voice begins to bellow through speakers standing like black boxes on stilts. Dennis watches and listens as Ned Garrity introduces his more celebrated guests when a security guard, walking a German shepherd, walks out of the woods and moves toward the chapel. The dog begins to bark as Dennis hurries to the back of the chapel and removes the chain John Mercier draped through the eyes of the doorjamb.
The back entrance is wide and tall. Dennis swings the huge door and lets it close behind him. The interior is dark and quiet as he passes through John Mercier’s small studio with the table and the oversized sheets of sketch paper and the cans and jars of pencils and crayons.
Dennis moves to a crack of light between a makeshift inner door and a false wall and looks inside. The chapel’s brilliant with studio lights. John Mercier’s standing on a dais of planks laid over three trestles. He’s looking through a small window under a lunette on the landside wall.
Dennis enters the chapel.
“Dennis? What are you doing here?”
“I couldn’t miss it, John. So I snuck in and waited and came down here when I could.”
“Get up here,” he says, and Dennis climbs two boxes and stands with him on the low scaffold where they embrace and shake hands and look out the window to the torches, the white tents and the people gathered around.
“Look at them,” he says.
“They all turned out.”
“And they’ll be down here in a few.”
From the scaffold overhead a young guy asks if the cover looks okay. John asks him if the lines are drawn tight, and the kid says they are.
“Meet my assistant,” John says, and he introduces Dennis to Harry, an art student from BU. Dennis asks John if this is the surfer-kid, and John says no, that the surfer kid only stayed a week and didn’t come back after that.
“What’s with the cover,” Dennis says pointing to the linen sheet drawn by lines over the last third of the ceiling.
“Mr. Garrity wants an unveiling in every sense of the word,” John Mercier says. “When he gives the word Harry’s supposed to pull a rope and the sheet will fall away towards the altar.”
Dennis looks out the window as the crowd moves in slow procession, two-by-two. Mr. Garrity and the Cardinal lead the way, followed by bishops, monsignors, priests, and all the other clergy. Behind them the partygoers move with less solemnity as they drink their champagne and chatter in expectation of what they’re about to see.
Dennis says he better hide in the back. He and John shake hands again, and Dennis tells him how good he looks in his sports jacket. John Mercier looks down and brushes his lapels.
“It’s not mine,” he says.
“No. Connie…Mrs. Garrity thought I might need a jacket for tonight so she bought me this one.”
“That was nice of her,” and they look at one another.
“Mrs. Garrity’s okay,” Dennis says. “I liked her.”
“Yes, she is. And she liked you, too.”
“And if she bought the jacket for you, it’s yours.”
“Yeah, well, I guess it is.”
“Good luck, John.”
Dennis squeezes into a dark corner in the studio and looks out the way knights in castles looked out through slivers of space and saw wide swaths of open ground.
John Mercier gets down from the dais and brushes his jacket. He tells Harry to get ready.
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